I read The Nation irregularly, though, tending to catch up on a number of issues at a time (taking "a time" flexibly, of course). Just now I'm working my way through last May, when the newsmagazine continued to arrive weekly while we continued to move through Sicily weakly. And most recently I've found Steven Hill's fine article "Europe's Answer to Wall Street," published in the May 10 issue and republished online here.
Hill writes about "co-determination," briefly the involvment (not merely representation) of workers in the direction of the (necessarily capitalist) corporations for which they work. "In Germany," he writes,
fully half of the boards of directors of the largest corporations--Siemens, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom and others--are elected by workers. In Sweden, one-third of a company's directors are worker-elected. To understand the significance of this, imagine if Wal-Mart were legally required to allow its workers to elect a third to half of its board, who would then oversee the CEO. Imagine how much that would change Wal-Mart's behavior toward its workers and supply chain.Americans are generally speaking parochial creatures, unaware of the currents of political and social beyond their borders. They — we — tend to think of Europe as broke and mired in the past, when in fact
Europe has the largest economy in the world, producing nearly a third of the world's GDP. Indeed, its economy is almost as large as those of the United States and China combined. Europe has more Fortune 500 companies than the United States and China together, and Europe had a higher per capita growth rate from 1998 to 2008 than the United States. Long denigrated by US pundits as the land of high unemployment, the EU currently even has a slightly lower unemployment rate than the United States.
Hill describes the irony of the American influence on the development of co-determination in Europe:
The Allied powers encouraged this line of thinking, since it decentralized economic power, shifting it away from the German industrialists who had supported the Nazi war effort. In effect, US planners "punished" postwar Germany with economic democracy as a way of handicapping concentrated wealth and power, helping to birth the most democratic corporate governance structure the world had ever seen.A major result of co-determination, of course, is its contribution to the well-being of workers, and thereby to the quality of daily life in society in general.
[T]he World Economic Forum in 2008-09 ranked Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands--all of which employ some degree of co-determination--among the top ten most competitive economies in the world. They are also ranked at or near the top of most lists for quality of life, healthcare and social benefits. That's not a coincidence, since co-determination allows for both economic vibrancy and more egalitarian social policy. And while the United States also ranks high in competitiveness, it is near the bottom among most-developed countries in healthcare, social benefits and quality of life.Hill's argument has perhaps been veiled by two distractions in recent American media coverage of the European economy: the Euro crisis brought on by social-welfare bubbles in Greece (and, potentially, other Mediterranean nations); and the strikes and protests now going on in re. the proposed delays of retirement.
That last issue is an interesting one: in a period of considerable unemployment, early retirement, like shorter work hours, seems a logical social policy. It's too bad there seems no way of encouraging mass media in our country to present these discussions clearly (and prominently!) to their audiences.